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The ultimate guide to organizing a skillshare

In the spirit of encouraging the spread of skillshares in as many places as possible, I’ve written down some of the most critical, ordered steps we took to create Somerville Skillshare from scratch (for context, read this article). Call it a blueprint, checklist, guidelines, or whatever you’d like. It’s a crowd-sourced list of things we learned through trial and error, conversations with people who helped us get the event off the ground, and general tips we wished we’d known beforehand. Good luck!

Photo credit: Paula Junn

Five to six months in advance: create the framework, branding, and logistical structure for the Skillshare.

  1. Develop your idea and elevator pitch. Understand the ins and outs of what you’re hoping to accomplish enough that people can see that you’ve thought the idea through, but not so much that you’re locked in to one idea and unable to revise based on the feedback you receive. Get comfortable pitching the idea to friends, family, and coworkers, and pay attention to what (hopefully) gets them excited. And do your research: has anything like this happened before that you can show people as examples of why this idea might work?

  2. Identify a venue. No space, no skillshare. Finding the right space is critically important because it dictates the number and types of classes that you can include. Whatever space you find—a community center, school, performance hall, office space—make sure that you’re on good terms with the building manager (you will need their help down the road) and take stock of important logistical details like number of classroom spaces, capacity, access to running water, availability of chairs and tables, etc.

  3. Create one, consolidated place to track any and all logistical information. This step is easy to ignore at the beginning of a project when there’s nothing going on; but when you’re running at full steam at the 11th hour, coordinating logistics and budget with 40+ teachers and 8 volunteers (like we were), you’ll be glad you took the time to get organized. I’d recommend creating a Google spreadsheet with a separate sheet for each area (i.e. “budget,” “contact info,” “publicity”) and sharing the doc with the other organizers.

  4. Build a simple website, Facebook page, and Twitter handle. The website is where your idea will live, so you want it to be clear, clean, and look legitimate. I’d recommend using Wordpress or some other free blogging platform because it’s so easy to use if you have zero experience (like we did) in designing websites. We primarily used Facebook and Twitter to build a following and engage our audience with new content from the website.

  5. Ask a friend with design chops to make a logo. A logo is the “picture” of an idea and it’s something that you can put in your website, social media, email blasts, posters, whatever. Even if your idea is terrible, a good logo gives the idea more legitimacy, which is incredibly important when convincing people to be involved.

Origami Skillshare, Photo Credit: Paula Junn

Four months in advance: start recruiting teachers, volunteers, and local partners. Now that the framework for the event is in place, you’ll need to build the substance and content (i.e. people). In all your interactions, be confident and persistent yet patient, courteous, and flexible.

  1. Begin with word of mouth. Reach out to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and strangers who know nothing about you or your idea. For a solid two weeks, I asked everyone the same question: “Do you know anyone who might want to teach a class as part of this free educational event I’m organizing? Do you know anyone who would want to help me organize it?” Get comfortable pitching your idea in 30 seconds. Put a link to the website in every single email that you send to people so that they click on it and can understand your idea right away.

  2. Create a “Call for Teachers and Volunteers” one page announcement. Include the logo, logistical information, and links to the website, and a written form of your elevator pitch. Consider creating a google or wufoo online form that you can email out and also put on your website and social media pages. Blast out the announcement on email listservs and social media and include it as an attachment in emails to potential collaborators.

  3. Organize your first volunteer meeting. This step is critically important, as it gives volunteers a chance to meet one another, build relationships, and get excited about the vision together. Rather than telling people what to do or delegating roles right away, allow people to take ownership of tasks that naturally interest them, and follow up with them on a 1 on 1 basis until they feel comfortable taking a leadership role in that area. As the chief organizer of this event, your job is to create the framework and structure that allows other people to get excited and contribute with their unique talents—NOT to be their boss. Host meetings on a recurring basis and as much as your schedules allow it (Doodle polls make this task much easier).

  4. Reach out to local community groups and potential partner organizations. Understand the landscape of who’s out there and start setting up meetings. If emailing a potential partner, include just enough information to get the other person excited enough to want to learn more. In-person meetings are better than phone calls; phone calls are better than email exchanges. Send thank you notes and follow ups promptly.

  5. Start small, be incremental, and claim small victories. As volunteers, teachers, and partners sign on, update your website to reference their involvement. Doing so will demonstrate momentum and make it that much easier to get new people on board.

Somerville Skillshare promotional poster and logo, created by Melissa Roberts

Two months in advance: market to attendees and raise money. By this time, you’ve hopefully got a lineup of teachers, a team of organizers, and a few community organizations that have agreed to lend their support. Now you need people and cash.

  1. Create an Eventbrite RSVP link and post the event details in every online place imaginable. We posted about Somerville Skillshare on public events calendars in local and regional newspapers, popular blogs, Yahoo Group listservs, Meetup.com, Couchsurfing.com, Facebook, you name it. If you want to reach a lot of people, leave no stone unturned. Taylor your pitch based on the audience with whom you’re communicating: if you’re posting on a family oriented website, highlight the kid’s classes; if you’re posting on an arts listserv, emphasize the arts classes. You get the idea.

  2. Create a Kickstarter campaign or some other crowdfunding tool. We created a fancy video because one of our organizers has an interest in film, but it’s not an essential ingredient to a successful campaign. In addition to raising funds, a Kickstarter campaign is a fantastic publicity tool because it gives your supporters a compelling reason to share the event details with everyone they know, too. Encourage all the organizers to send emails to send donation requests to friends and family along with a short, personal narrative about why they care about the project.

  3. Engage your teachers in the publicity and fundraising process. This step is critical, because it drastically increases the number helping to get out the word. By the time we launched our Kickstarter and Evenbrite, many of our 40 teachers were diligently posting about the project to their respective networks. Encourage your teachers to take ownership of the event with you—after all, each teacher has a unique skill that they could contribute to the project.

  4. Start reaching out to local news outlets. Start small and see if you can get a small local paper to write about it your event. Once one paper writes about it, others are much more likely to do the same.

Photo credit: David Booth

One month in advance - logistics, logistics, logistics. The actual day-to-day planning was actually one of the last things we did. By this point in time, you’ll (hopefully) be riding high on the buzz and publicity you’ve created, and you and the other organizers will get done what needs to get done. Meet often, ensure that roles and responsibilities are clearly laid out, and you’ll get through it.

  1. Walk through the building and take stock of the classroom requirements for each class. Think about things like chairs, tables, projectors, lighting, and capacity. Track these for every class in your tracking doc. Assign a person to be in charge of inventory for the day.

  2. Create a schedule for the day. Schedule regimented hang out time to give people the chance to continue their conversations from the classes, to meet one another and to make new friends. Here’s ours as a reference. Clear the class schedule with your teachers three weeks in advance. Post the schedule on your website.

  3. Be strategic about assigning volunteer roles. Roles at our event included greeters, classroom liaisons, a donations and T-shirt liaison, a social media person, a photographer, and others. Whatever you decide, make sure a) everyone knows who to report to in an emergency, and b) that everyone has each other’s phone number. Call everyone together before the event starts to walk through main responsibilities and give everyone thank you donuts.

  4. Make a brochure with a class schedule and guidelines for the day. We printed out 1000 8.5 x 11 black and white brochures (costs generously covered by our local Staples) and distributed them to every person who walked into the building. The brochures included the schedule, rules for the day, social media guidelines, and shout outs to our sponsors.

Photo credit: Paula Junn

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